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July 12, 2021 10 min read

You can do all the workouts in the world and not see a change in your figure if you're not exercising with sufficient intensity. And while elaborate workout routines look effective, the simplest exercises can actually be the most beneficial to you in the long run.

Enter the barbell complex

Barbell complex workouts are very simple to memorize and complete, and they’re great for strength training, fat burning, and building muscle. They consist of a set of 3 to 4 barbell exercises that are performed one after another without taking your hands off the bar.

Not only are they effective, but they are a great way to save time in the gym too.

Fit muscular athlete doing clean and jerk exercise in the gym

Example Barbell Complex 1

  • Power clean
  • Front squat
  • Back squat
  • Behind-the-neck press
  • Push press

This complex is also known as the bear complex, and it’s very common in CrossFit circles, however, you can also do this anywhere you find a barbell and plates!

Here's how to do it

Perform one rep of each exercise 3 to 7 times to complete one round. To complete a full bear complex workout, you need to do five rounds.

Barbell Complex 2

Barbell Complex 3

  • Squat clean
  • Back squat
  • Reverse lunges
  • Bent over row
  • Strict press

Barbell Complex 4

  • Romanian deadlift
  • Bent over row
  • Overhead thrusters
  • Hang power clean
  • Thrusters

Barbell Complex 5

  • Front squat
  • Overhead lunges
  • Hang power clean
  • Sumo deadlift high pulls
  • Push press

Each of these complexes can have a few different variations.

An example of this would be for complex four, you would do one rep of the bent over row, deadlift, overhead thrusters, hang power cleans, and thrusters. Then, do it all again without ever setting the bar down. Each time you complete one rep of each exercise in a round, that is considered one rep in the set.

Another variation of these complexes would include finishing 3 to 7 reps of each exercise before doing the next exercise, and then resting once you’ve done all of the exercises this way.

For example, when performing barbell complex five, you would do 3 to 7 reps of front squats, overhead lunges, hang power cleans, sumo deadlift high pulls, and push presses in order and then rest. The next variation just involves a change in the rest. You should rest for two minutes between rounds.

You’ll gradually reduce the rest time to one minute to increase the amount of metabolism you’re burning.

The final variation is simply to vary the amount of weight you have on the bar. Start with an empty bar to perfect the lifts, and then add weight until you feel good about the weight you have.

Power Cleans

Power cleans are an exercise that improves athleticism, power, and speed. It’s very explosive, and it is part of one of the Olympic weightlifting moves called the Clean and Jerk. It’s a very technical and challenging movement and will improve many areas if you add it to your training session.

First, you’ll need the barbell to be at your mid-shin, face the bar, stand with your feet at shoulder-width apart, and grab the bar on the outside of your legs. Keep your chest raised, your back neutral, and your arms straight. Now, pick up the bar in the same style as a deadlift and keep your legs locked.

Jump up with a lot of force and shrug your shoulders. Use the momentum to bring the bar up to your anterior shoulders, and try to land in a quarter squat. Stand up straight with the barbell resting on your clavicle, and you’ve completed a power clean.

Front Squats

Front squats target your glutes, core, hamstrings, and quadriceps. This is a compound exercise that is usually used by more experienced weightlifters. This lift also isn’t done very often and is a lot safer than back squats. To start, make sure that the bar is on the squat rack and sitting across your chest.

Step close to the bar and do a quarter squat so the bar is hitting the top of your chest. Grab hold of the bar, bring your elbows forward, and stand up straight to take the bar off of the rack. Take a step backward and stand shoulder-width apart. Bend your legs so you can lower yourself into a squat, and try to make your thighs parallel to the ground.

Once in the bottom position, pause and explode back up to your starting position.

Back Squats

The opposite of the above workout, the front squat, is the back squat. It’s often called, “the king of leg moves,” because it works almost every major muscle in your lower body. It’s a very popular move used to build muscle, and it’s often used for HIIT (high-intensity interval training).

First, put the bar on a rack that will make the bar hit the middle of your shoulder blades. Step under the bar in a quarter squat and rest the bar on the top of your shoulders, behind your neck. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart, and sit into a squat position as if you were trying to sit in a chair. Once your thighs are parallel to the ground, stand back up and do as many of those as you want to.

Behind-the-Neck Presses

This workout specifically targets your shoulders, and it’s very controversial because of the amount of pressure it puts on your neck and back. You can do this exercise while you’re standing or sitting, but start seated if you’re not used to doing this movement. To do this exercise, place the barbell across your shoulders.

Keep your palms facing forward and a little bit wider than shoulder-width apart. Make sure that your elbows are below the bar, press the bar straight up above your head, and return to the beginning position. You can hold the bar in the air for as long as you’d like, but don’t push yourself too much. This movement is very dangerous, so don’t try to overdo this one.

Push Presses

This is a very good workout for your shoulders that doesn’t put too much stress on them. This move is also fairly simple, so you don’t need to worry about looking weird doing it for the first time. This movement is also a very good way to condition your rotator cuffs, which you need to take care of when you’re in weight training.

First, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with the barbell resting in front of the middle of your chest. Keep your elbows pointed forward, drop into a quarter squat, and press up into your heels to drive the barbell above your head until your arms are straight. Bring the bar back down to your chest, keeping your spine in a neutral arch the entire time.

Hang Snatches

This is one of the snatch variations that come from Olympic weightlifting. It helps increase hip development, and it increases your explosiveness. It works out your biceps, forearms, glutes, shoulders, triceps, hamstrings, calves, quads, traps, and erectors.

With the barbell on the ground in front of you, grab the bar with a hook grip and pick it up so that it’s at the bottom of your knees, keeping your shins perpendicular with the floor and your chest directly over the bar. At this point, you’ll want to jump straight up and drive the bar up above your head.

Use the force that absorbing the bar gives you to go into a squat once the bar is completely extended over your head. Then, stand up while keeping the bar above your head. Release the bar back onto the ground.

Good Mornings

For the good morning exercise, you’ll need to stand very tall. Put the bar on a rack that will help it hit the middle of your shoulder blades. Go into a quarter squat to pick the bar up on the tops of your shoulders, and stand up straight. Lean forward from your hips while still keeping your chin up. Once you feel a pull in your hamstrings, stand back up.

Overhead Squats

This type of squat requires you to be as honest about your upper body strength as you’re willing to be. You have to take the barbell and hold it over your head. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart on the bar, and your feet should also be shoulder-width apart, with your toes facing outwards slightly. You need to squat down as low as you can go before your back begins to arch. You need to keep your chest up and stand back up through your heels.

Snatch Grip Deadlifts

Compared to the traditional deadlift, this lift is very advanced. This exercise works out your traps, hamstrings, glutes, and your core. This requires you to use the typical snatch grip on the bar. The bar will need to be on the ground in front of you. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly turned outward.

Standing behind the bar, bend at the knees and hips to pick up the bar. Make sure that you keep a snatch grip on the bar, and stand up slowly while keeping your spine straight. Once you reach the top of the deadlift, squeeze your glutes very tight. Return the bar back into the starting position. Don’t set the bar down before doing the next rep.

Squat Cleans

Olympic weightlifters use this exercise, as well as avid CrossFitters because it requires your body to activate a large number of muscles to move the weight including your quads, glutes, calves, and hamstrings. It also works your core, shoulders, biceps, and traps!

How to do it: Keep the bar on the ground in front of you, and bend at the hips and knees to pick it up as if you are going to perform a deadlift.

When picking up the bar to stand up straight, bend your elbows and push them forward once the bar reaches your stomach. You’ll catch the bar in a rack position and absorb it into a squat. When you’re in the squat, keep your core and spine tight. Go into as deep of a squat as you can, then stand back up straight while dropping the barbell back onto the ground.

Reverse Lunges

This is a good body strength exercise because it works out almost every major muscle in the body. The first thing that you’ll want to do is get the barbell on the back of your shoulders and make sure that your grip on the barbell is very comfortable. Stand with your feet together, and keep your core tight.

Step back with one of your legs and dip into a lunge. Your knees need to be at 90-degree angles. Make sure that you’re breathing well and keeping your core tight. Stand back up, bringing the leg you chose back up to meet the other leg. Don’t lean forward at all, keep your chest up and your head high. Repeat the steps on your other leg.

Man Doing Exercise For Back With Barbell

Bent Over Rows

Bent over rows are known to be one of the best mass building back exercises. For this exercise, you’ll want to focus on the way your spine is shaped while you’re doing it. The main thing to remember is to not arch your back, which is very difficult to do in this exercise. This workout also requires you to make sure that you lead with your elbows.

Leave the bar on the ground, and do a quarter squat and bend at the hips to pick it up. Once you have the bar, let it hang a little bit, and then pull your elbows back to bring the bar up to your belly button. Try to squeeze your shoulder blades while the bar is in this position, and then return the bar to its hanging position. Remember to stay bent at the hips the entire time.

Strict Presses

Also called the military press, this exercise is known for how difficult it is to master. You’ll definitely impress people at your gym when you show off the correct way to do this movement. It works out your upper back, shoulders, chest, and triceps at the same time.

You should definitely do a good warm-up before you do this exercise; you could start with some cardio, less strenuous presses, or different workouts like push-ups. Put the barbell in a rack that will make it hit you at mid-chest. Grab the bar so that your hands are a little bit wider than shoulder-width apart, do a quarter squat under the bar, and stand up straight to bring the bar up to your chin.

Keep your feet together like a soldier and make sure that your core is tight. Take a deep breath, and breathe out while pushing the bar straight up. Don’t arch your back at all, and keep your entire body extremely tight the entire time.

Romanian Deadlifts

Start with the bar on the ground in front of you. Bend your knees and bend at your hips so that you can pick up the bar without hurting your back. Put your feet shoulder-width apart, grab the barbell in an overhand grip position, and put the bar in front of your shins until you feel a slight pull in your hamstrings. Push your hips forward to reverse the move into the start position.

Overhead Thrusters

The overhead thruster is a good way to begin doing the overhead squats. You should start with the bar in front of you at about the same level as the middle of your chest.

Place your hands on the bar at a little wider than shoulder-width apart, drop into a squat with the bar like that, and press the bar over your head when you stand back up. Pull the bar back into your chest, do a squat again, and repeat this to complete the exercise. You’ll be doing a full-body workout with the move alone.


Thrusters are very good exercises for the full body. Place the bar in front of you in a front squat rack position, and make sure that your hands are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart on the bar.

Squat down until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Jump up through your heels and use the momentum to drive the barbell up over your head until your arms are locked. Once you’ve held that position for your desired amount of time, bring it back down to your chest.

Hang Power Cleans

This is another Olympic weightlifting technique. With the bar on the ground in front of you, pick it up so that you’re holding it around your thighs at a shoulder-width apart hand grip.

Bend your knees so that you jump and pull the bar up to your chest. When the bar rests on your chest, use that force to go into a deep squat. Hold the position for as long as you’d like, and then lower the bar back to your thighs while standing back up.

Sumo Deadlift High Pulls

This is a very explosive movement that creates a lot of momentum in the barbell. It’s very popular for conditioning. It uses almost every major muscle in the body. It also works very fast, and it’s very easy to complete. It’s one of the usual CrossFit WODs.

Your feet should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with the bar in front of you on the ground. Your hand placement should be on the inside of your legs in a full grip. Use your hips and shoulders to pull the bar off the ground.

Once you’re standing straight up, pull the bar up to your chest by pulling your elbows to the outside of the bar. Lower the bar back down to the ground to complete the rep.


Whichever complex you choose, they all have their benefits. Most of the workouts in each complex will use all of the major muscles they need.

Whichever variation you choose to do for whichever complex you choose to do is up to you. You can’t go wrong with any of these workouts.